I’m one of those rare people who truly enjoy a good documentary. Not only does it help me become educated on different topics, and ones that may not be within my life experience – but it can lead me down the path of discovery and into further shows or reading. And when I was first introduced to A Reckoning in Boston, it looked like a great documentary to see a different side of Boston and a side of the city and people that I haven’t experienced. The reviews for the film and blurb say it is heart-wrenching and eye-opening – so right up my alley.
A Reckoning in Boston does highlight the inequity of life in Boston, especially for people of color and the Black population within the city. It follows a group of women who are working towards creating a sustainable path to just a basic living. From battling the city for the same rights to just exist in their neighborhoods but to create a future for their own children and others within their community. It’s a similar battle we see here within the city of Detroit. It shines a light on these inequities and what seems to be a fight that needs to be addressed within the city and the country as a whole.
And for that, the documentary is good. But it has a glaring problem that didn’t sit well for me. Who is the story is actually about?
A Reckoning in Boston is supposed to be the story of the Black community and the women it highlights. However, the movie takes the tone and the viewpoint from that of a white man, the documentary maker James Rutenbeck. This, outwardly this isn’t a huge problem it doesn’t truly focus on the women’s experience to give the viewers a better understanding of their lives. Yes, we are shown things like their struggles and short conversations with them. But the movie seems to focus on how James begins to understand and his own reckoning with the situations.
It seems the movie falls into the trap that a lot of white allies do – wanting to help but instead making it more about them than the actual subject or issue at hand. The struggle of these women and the community in Boston should be a larger part of the story, and while James’ coming to terms that the city has a hierarchy and inequities he did not know about is a good thing – focusing on that doesn’t help further their cause but seems to just give warm fuzzies that this outsider may start to understand the issues they’re facing just from the outside.
Does this make A Reckoning in Boston a documentary to avoid? Absolutely not, but it does highlight what we need to truly focus on and other inequities that we can create while trying to help without fully understanding what we are doing.
About A Reckoning in Boston:
In A RECKONING IN BOSTON Kafi Dixon dreams of starting a land cooperative for women of color who have experienced trauma and disenfranchisement in the city of Boston. By day she drives a city bus; at night she studies the humanities in a tuition-free course. Her classmate Carl Chandler, a community elder, is the class’s intellectual leader. White suburban filmmaker James Rutenbeck documents the students’ engagement with the humanities. He looks for transformations but is awakened to the violence, racism and gentrification that threaten Kafi and Carl’s very place in the city.
A RECKONING IN BOSTON director is James Rutenbeck, a two-time recipient of the Alfred I. duPont Journalism Award for his work as producer of the PBS Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? (2008), about health disparities in the U.S. and Class of ’27 (2016), an Editor’s Pick at The Atlantic, which he executive produced, directed and edited. The Sundance Documentary Fund, LEF Moving Image Fund, Southern Humanities Media Fund and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have supported his film work. James’ nonfiction films have screened at various forums including Cinema du Reel, Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and Flaherty Film Seminar.